Azusa Pacific 3
Notre Dame de Namur 2
Maybe Azusa Pacific should play every game on this field. Playing on their practice field at Azusa Square for the first time ever, the NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Cougars dominated No. 19 Notre Dame de Namur for 3-2 win in the NAIA Region II Semifinals Monday afternoon in Azusa.
The win sends the Cougars into Saturday’s Region II Finals where they will host either Westmont or Cal Baptist at 1 p.m. on the Azusa Square Field once again.
The game was originally scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. at Cougar Stadium on Azusa Pacific’s main campus, but it was postponed just minutes before kickoff due to unsafe field conditions caused by steady rains over the weekend. Thus, the door was open to debut the Azusa Square Field for its first game.
Out of the gate, the Cougars dictated the tempo and put continuous pressure on Arognaut GK Holly Boucher. However, Boucher and the Argonaut defense refused to break as Boucher came up with a handful of saves to keep the game scoreless.
On its second and final corner kick of the afternoon, Notre Dame broke through when Jenifer Martinelli collected a Yang Zhou serve and tucked the ball away into the corner of the net for her first goal of the year and a 1-0 Argonaut advantage in the 36th minute. Zhou had an opportunity to make it 2-0 just seconds later, but her point blank shot sailed just outside the right post, and the half ended 1-0.
“The last 3 games before this were fairly easy games, so it took us a little while to get going today, said Azusa Pacific head coach and GSAC Coach of the Year Jason Surrell. “They (Notre Dame) didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities, and we played well in the first half but just forgot to clear the ball out one time. It was just a matter of us solving their defense.”
Coming out of the intermission, the Cougars went right back to work as All-GSAC and team-leading scorer Erin Arbizu stole and errant Notre Dame pass, created a 1-on-1 opportunity in the box, beat the defender, and sent a shot past a frozen Boucher into the upper far post corner of the net to equalize the game 1-1 just 20 seconds into the second half.
“We talked about how to get in behind the defense in the second half and sliding balls in behind defenders,” said Surrell. “We wanted to get some 1-on-1 situations and draw defenders in a bit, which is was Erin did on that first goal.”
Fourteen minutes later and in almost identical fashion, Arbizu again stole an errant Argonaut pass and tucked it away to the far post to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead.
Freshman Britany Nauchtrieb added a much-need insurance tally in the 77th minute. Once again Arbizu broke free in the box, but had the ball deflected away at the last minute to a waiting Nauctrieb, who collected it and sent the ball into the far post side netting for a 3-1 Cougar advantage.
From there, the Cougars played keep away and began to kill some valuable time off the clock. However, Zhou answered in the final minutes for the Argonauts when she scored to the far post after receiving a pass from Amber Davidson at the left side of the 18-yard box in the 87th minute.
The intensity of the match picked up but the Argonauts never threatened from that point, and the Cougars killed the remaining few minutes to secure the match.
“We’re in a good spot,” said Surrell, referring to Saturday’s final. “We got hit hard today in a physical game so hopefully we’ll recover. We knew that number 10 (Zhou) was special, and she got one in the end. That’s just something special players do in the end of games. I thought we dominated this game though.”
Azusa Pacific outshot Notre Dame, 15-4, including 9-2 in the second half. The Argonauts scored on their only pair of shots on net. The Cougars fired 9 shots on goal.
The Cougars must now sit and wait as Westmont hosts Cal Baptist tonight at 4:30 p.m. in Santa Barbara. The Cougars host the winner Saturday for the region’s automatic bid to the 2002 NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship Nov. 21-26 in St. Charles, Mo.
With the win, Azusa Pacific, the top seed in the region, improves to 13-2. Notre Dame has its season to an end at 15-4-2.